OLYMPIA – Washington Air National Guard tanker planes from Spokane are likely to head soon for Louisiana, ferrying the first of the region’s National Guard ground troops to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.
The Oregon National Guard has asked for KC-135 tanker planes to haul 100 soldiers from Oregon’s 1186th military police company from Portland to Louisiana. The planes are based at Fairchild Air Force Base as part of the 141st Air Refueling Wing.
“We’re trying to get them (the military police) out tomorrow, and if not then, then Saturday,” Capt. Mike Braibish, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard, said Thursday.
Oregon and Washington Guard officials on Thursday evening said they were waiting for approval from the federal National Guard Bureau.
“I am certainly not expecting any kind of showstopper there,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Clayton, a public affairs officer for the Washington National Guard.
In Boise Thursday afternoon, an Idaho Air National Guard C-130 took off with 24,000 bottles of donated water from local company Trinity Springs. It was the first of two donated plane-loads of the 1.5–liter bottles of drinking water.
“We asked officials in Louisiana and Mississippi what kind of aid we could provide,” Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said in a press release. “They made it very clear that if we could get this water to them, it would be most welcome.” The first plane will bring the water to Belle Chasse Naval Air Station, in northwest Louisiana.
Another Idaho C-130 was en route Thursday to pick up Nevada National Guard security forces and take them to Louisiana.
Washington, Idaho and Oregon Guard officials say they’re poised to dispatch hundreds of troops, Blackhawk helicopters and specialized units like security forces if called upon.
“At this point, we’re just waiting,” said Lt. Col. Stephanie Dowling, spokeswoman for the Idaho National Guard. “I’m sure we’ll be involved in the long-term relief and sustainment effort. We just don’t know at this point what that role will be.”
Any Washington and Idaho troops sent to the battered region would likely be volunteers, Guard officials in each state said. The Oregon military police company was ordered to duty.
Military officials said Thursday that they expected to have more than 20,000 Guardsmen on state active duty in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by nightfall, and said that number would rise in coming days. Naval helicopter ships, an aircraft carrier and a hospital ship are en route to the region as well.
Here’s what Washington, Idaho and Oregon are offering:
“Washington: Six UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for search-and-rescue and supply missions, 500 general-purpose troops for duties like manning checkpoints and helping distribute supplies, and KC-135 jets – which are essentially modified Boeing 707s – to transport supplies and people. It hasn’t been decided yet whether the troops would take their weapons, Clayton said. Washington has one National Guard engineering unit, but it’s on the verge of deploying to Iraq.
“Idaho: Has three available C-130 cargo planes, three Blackhawk helicopters, security forces and communications experts. Dowling said the state hasn’t set a number of available troops yet.
“At this point, we’re trying to identify who’s available,” she said.
“Oregon: Has engineering, communications, transportation and medical units available, as well as an air wing with a mobile hospital. Braibish said the state is offering 450 troops, “but we can go up to more if the need arises.”
To avoid burdening the region’s infrastructure, the military police company is able to support itself – food, water and shelter – for 10 days, he said. Braibish said he wasn’t sure whether the 100 troops would be armed.
“We’re certainly looking into that,” he said. “They’ll be prepared to go into any environment they need to.”
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